The Global Forest Watch system, launched by a group of partners including Google, UNEP and the World Resources Institute (WRI), uses the latest satellite technology, open data, and crowdsourcing to provide access to “timely and reliable” information about forests.

WRI CEO Dr. Andrew Steer said: “Businesses, governments and communities desperately want better information about forests. Now, they have it.

“Global Forest Watch is a near-real time monitoring platform that will fundamentally change the way people and businesses manage forests. From now on, the bad guys cannot hide and the good guys will be recognised for their stewardship,” he added.

According to data from the University of Maryland and Google, both partners of the project, the world lost 2.3 million square kilometers (230 million hectares) of tree cover from 2000 to 2012 – equivalent to 50 football fields of forest lost every minute of every day for 12 years.

The countries with the highest tree cover loss are Russia, Brazil, Canada, United States, and Indonesia.

According to the WRI, Global Forest Watch will have far-reaching implications across industries.

“Financial institutions can better evaluate if the companies they invest in adequately assess forest-related risks,” it said in a statement.

It added that buyers of major commodities such as palm oil, soy, timber, and beef can better monitor compliance with laws, sustainability commitments, and standards, while suppliers can credibly demonstrate that their products are “deforestation free” and legally produced.

Commentin on the launch, Unilever CEO Paul Polman said: “Deforestation poses a material risk to businesses that rely on forest-linked crops. Exposure to that risk has the potential to undermine the future of businesses”.

Polman added that as business strives to increase the visibility of where ingredients come from, the launch of Global Forest Watch will provide the information urgently needed to make “the right decisions, fostering transparency, enforcing accountability, and facilitating partnerships.”

Leigh Stringer

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